Art dealer Hillel “Helly” Nahmad was sentenced today to a year and a day in prison after pleading guilty last November to a federal gambling charge. He was also ordered to pay a $30,000 fine and to turn over $6.4 million and his interest in a Raoul Dufy painting that was the subject of an allegedly fraudulent transaction.
Nahmad must submit to drug testing after his release and must perform 300 hours of community service. He is also required to participate in a gambling addiction program.
Wearing a dark suit, Nahmad came before U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman in a packed courtroom at the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, pleaded for over an hour with the judge to allow Nahmad to contribute financially to and participate in a program that exposes disadvantaged youths to art instead of sentencing him to prison time.
Nahmad’s conviction came as part of a wide-ranging racketeering investigation. Nahmad was accused of playing a leadership role in a gambling ring including two related Russian-American organized crime enterprises, according to the New York Times.
Nahmad, 36, is a member of a wealthy, influential family of art collectors and dealers. Their collective holdings, predominantly in 19th- and 20th-century art, are estimated to have a net worth of $3 billion. The brothers and their wives and children have long been a fixture at auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Nahmad’s Upper East Side gallery, known for exhibitions of blue-chip works by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon, was raided by federal agents in April 2013.
“Your Honor, I am ashamed,” Nahmad said just before the sentence was handed down. “My family is a private family and I have brought dishonor to it. We are a proud family and I have brought the spotlight of the media on all of us because of my illegal actions. No matter what your sentence today, I will never forgive myself. Others who love me may forgive, but I will not.
“Gambling has always been a part of my life. I watched my father and his friends play games . . . for high stakes. It was a part of his life the way the art business was. It was almost an addiction. It crossed the line into my being part of illegal gambling. I knew we were no longer just betting and I should have stopped. I didn’t and I have only myself to blame.
“I have learned a hard, humiliating lesson and a humbling one. I work harder than ever in the art business in hope of restoring my good name. I am committed to giving back to the community. I hope you allow me to remain in my community.”
Judge Furman dismissed Nahmad’s proposal, noting that he had undertaken no community-oriented activities in the time since his arrest. “That is the lowest-hanging of fruit, and Mr. Nahmad did not pick it,” he said. “He played a significant role in longstanding and significant criminal conduct. He has contempt for the rules that apply to everyone else.”
He specifically noted a transaction in which Nahmad overcharged an unnamed woman in dire financial circumstances by over $100,000 in an art deal.
“He has had every single advantage in life and he took advantage of her vulnerability,” Furman said. “To allow him to use his family’s money to buy his way out of this would sow contempt for the law.”
Brafman cited dozens of letters from powerful figures in the art world, including at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. “Not a single one attested to any good works done for those less fortunate,” Furman said from the bench. “The vast majority of those letters are from people who have reason to curry favor with Mr. Nahmad.”